An iron cage surrounding a chamber in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus Christ is believed to have been buried before His resurrection, has been removed for the first time in 70 years as part of renovation work.
Haaretz reported on Sunday that the iron cage was first put in by British workers in 1974 in order to prevent the collapse of the Edicule, which is the chamber where Jesus was believed to have been entombed.
"The removal of the protective cage was made possible by months of painstaking work to stabilize the Edicule, that began in June 2016. A team from the National Technical University of Athens is leading the renovation work, under the supervision of church representatives," Haaretz noted.
The restoration project, which began last year after the various Christian sects who hold co-ownership of the church agreed on the plans, has seen various components of the chamber removed, restored and replaced.
"The British did good work, and it is good that they put up the cage, but now our models have shown that the structure is stable and [the cage] may be removed," explained Prof. Antonia Moropoulou, head of the Greek university team supervising the renovations.
"Under the Edicule there are excavations, tunnels, sewage and groundwater, and the entire monster is rising up and threatening the structure. The foundations must be stabilized," she added.
The $3.7 million project includes collections of photos and details of the findings, such as the uncovering of the original limestone bed that Jesus is believed to have been laid upon before His resurrection.
"I'm absolutely amazed. My knees are shaking a little bit because I wasn't expecting this," said Fredrik Hiebert of National Geographic last year.
"We can't say 100 percent, but it appears to be visible proof that the location of the tomb has not shifted through time, something that scientists and historians have wondered for decades."
And in December, researchers announced the discovery of an engraved cross believed to have been left by 12th century crusaders.
"The most amazing thing for me was when we removed the first layer of dust and found a second piece of marble," Hiebert described. "This one was grey, not creamy white like the exterior, and right in the middle of it was a beautifully inscribed cross. We had no idea that was there."
The National Geographic said that part of the mission of the project is to search for further evidence that the tomb is indeed the location where Christ was buried after the crucifixion.
Moropoulou estimated that the renovation of the historic church could be completed and opened to visitors by mid-April, in time for the Orthodox Easter.